By Kimetha Hill
Contributing Writer

Last Thursday evening the Voice & Viewpoint Newspaper in conjunction with Black Men United held a Pre-Election Town Hall at the Jacobs Center for Neighborhood Innovation with the intent purpose on allowing residents to engage candidates running for office in the 4th Council District as well as Judicial candidates before the June 3 primary. “This is not a candidate debate, but an opportunity for the community to meet the candidates and raise questions of them,” shared Dr. John Warren, publisher of the Voice & Viewpoint and moderator for the evening.

The town hall began with an introduction of the Honorable Judge Randa Trapp, African American judge who was appointed in 2003. She introduced several of her colleagues also either running for an open seat or who were being challenged in this election; the Honorable Judge Lisa Schall, the Honorable Judge Jacqueline Stern and the Honorable Judge Michael Popkins, all of whom have been endorsed by the Voice & Viewpoint.

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Judge Trapp explained that the government appoints over 90 percent of judges currently serving on the bench. Whether they are appointed or elected, every six years they stand for reelection. When a judge is contested during an election, there is many times an agenda behind it.

Town Hall guests were allowed a brief period to ask questions of the judges present and the questions varied from being called and serving jury duty to why they believe they are being challenged. Each candidate was very open and forthcoming in their responses.

Next, Dr. Warren introduced Black Men United and their purpose in the community. Brother Charles Alexander gave an inspiring testimony to his own experiences with Black Men United as well as their commitment to serve and uplift their neighbors and the community as a whole.

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Before introducing the 4th District candidates who were present, Dr. Warren advised, “In light of the recent change in voter ID requirements we need to become more aware of what’s going on. Two of the things we have as people of color are the dollar and the vote – we don’t make maximum use of either.”

Present candidates were Tony Villafranca and Bruce Williams, who each gave a short introduction on why they are running. Villafranca spoke to his connection with the community as a lifelong resident, while Williams detailed his history of working with community leaders who sparked change in the district. Also present was Ms. Lan Jefferson, running for the Community College District.

Residents questioned the candidates on what they would do to bring jobs to the community, how they would address stimulating entrepreneurship among blacks and how they would encourage better relations between people of color and the police department as well as recruitment and hiring.

Williams offered a community plan upgrade where businesses could receive permits quickly, generating jobs faster. He focused on building entrepreneurial businesses that would be viable to the City and spoke of instituting cultural sensitivity training in cadet training.

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Villafranca offered that there needs to be additional training before bringing in more jobs to the community. He also advised that racism and prejudices are issues that must be addressed within the police department, and that dialogue is the key to solving this problem.

Mrs. Jewel Hooper, a senior in her 90s and this year’s YMCA MLK honoree, questioned the candidates on how to get a course in the community college district that would teach civics and educate students on the ins and outs of voting. To that, Ms. Jefferson advised that she would recommend such a course to the community college district and is in full support of said course.

Some residents voiced frustration over the “same old candidates” running for office and pushed for the need for new and fresh leadership in the district. When the candidates were questioned on how they would bring the community together, Villafranca discussed celebrating the diversity of all heritages while Williams spoke of creating a commission to bring together cultures and hosting events.

Current District 4 Councilmember Myrtle Cole and candidate Blanca Lopez Brown were not in attendance. Dr. Warren spoke to what he considered the planned absence of Mrs. Cole who appears to have missed at least four out of five debates. Blanca Lopez Brown also appears to have missed candidates’ debates.

There were approximately 150 people in attendance for this two hour event.

Photos by JoAnn Fields